Problems seen for pilots at 'higher; altitude strip

Pang's proposed airport site hits fog bank

By CHRIS WINDEYER

Construction on a new airport for Pangnirtung is still as much as two years away, but there's already concern that the proposed hilltop runway could pose a problem for pilots.

The Government of Nunavut plans to spend $35 million on a new airport for Pang, and weather studies for the site, located on a hill next to the Duval River, nearly 600 metres above sea level, are already underway.

Ron Mongeau, Pang's senior administrative officer, said the community gets a lot of fog during the spring and fall.

Planes can usually fly below the fog when landing at the current airport, but might be right in the thick of it at a new, higher-altitude site.

"There may be an issue with that low-lying fog basically socking in at the airport and not allowing flights to get in," he said.

Pang needs a new airport because, at less than 900 metres, the current runway limits the types of planes that can land there and is too short for planes to land with a full load.

"It's very difficult for [airlines] to integrate Pang into any other routes in the region," he said.

Mongeau said that's hampering the hamlet's economic potential. Nearby Auyuittuq National Park is a draw for tourists and Pangnirtung is the hub of Nunavut's developing fishery, he added.

"A better airstrip that will allow bigger and better planes to get in will do nothing but boost the economy of the community."

Methuselah Kunuk, the assistant deputy minister for transportation, agreed Pang needs a new airport urgently. The new runway would be more than 1,200 metres long, enough to land almost any kind of turboprop aircraft.

"In the middle of a community a short airstrip is not really safe," he said.

Pang's new airport was recently included in a GN slide show presented at the Nunavut Mining Symposium as part of a list of transportation projects the GN would like to see built.

But Kunuk cautions that, with a $35-million price tag, the new Pang airport would require federal funding. And it's not yet clear if or when that will come, he said.

The GN is also finishing construction of Arctic Bay's badly-needed new airport and there are plans in the works to replace Kimmirut's short and treacherous airstrip.

Still, Pang's hamlet council is eager for the new airport to go ahead. The current airport runway effectively splits the town in half, with only one road connecting both sides of the hamlet.

Mongeau said the current airport site, if redeveloped, could be large enough to build 10 to 12 years of ­housing.

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